Martin Luther King dreamed that one day his children would "be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not the color of their skin." This week, the current head of the Justice Department said that "given the disparities that still afflict and divide us," that dream will have to wait.
Eric Holder addressed an audience at Howard University Tuesday as part of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. After recounting the horrific struggles of the civil rights movement and heroic efforts of many who fought to extend those rights to all races, Holder suggested, as is his wont in such speeches, that "significant challenges remain" and there is "a great deal more to do." He went on:
As it stands, our society is not yet colorblind; nor should it be, given the disparities that still afflict and divide us. We must be color brave and must never forget that all are made better and more prosperous if all are given equal opportunities...
We must take into account not only the considerable steps forward we’ve seen over the last 50 years, but the entirety of the experience that people of color have faced. And we must never hesitate to confront the fact, the undeniable truth, that in too many places across this nation that I love – and have served throughout my life – that the echoes of injustices stretching back nearly four centuries continue to reverberate. These echoes from times past are still heard by too many.
The term "color brave" was either coined or popularized by Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments, who used it at a TED [Technology, Entertainment and Design] conference talk in May of this year. TED's website describes her remarks:
The subject of race can be very touchy. As finance executive Mellody Hobson says, it's a "conversational third rail." But, she says, that's exactly why we need to start talking about it. In this engaging, persuasive talk, Hobson makes the case that speaking openly about race — and particularly about diversity in hiring — makes for better businesses and a better society.
Holder himself famously declared in 2009 that "in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards." Holder seems to be offering "color brave" as a contrast to the "nation of cowards":
In addressing these lingering effects, there is a need for personal responsibility. Too many individuals act in ways that are negligent or counterproductive. But there is also a need for societal responsibility; for collective engagement and common effort. We must be willing to acknowledge the problems we face, to talk frankly about inequality, and to examine its causes and its impacts and, most importantly, to act to eradicate it. And we must look at our great nation, and reflect on its history, with clarity and with honesty – with open eyes and deep understanding of who we have been, who we aspire to be, and who we are today.
In his Tuesday speech, Holder made clear that not only will he continue to talk and aggressively act as attorney general to right the racial "echoes of injustices" as he sees them, but the injustices based on sexual orientation and gender identity as well, the new frontiers of the modern civil rights movement. What is less clear is when Holder believes King's dream might be achieved and justice can truly be blind.